Folic acid fortification pressure rises in UK

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Folic acid, Fsa

A UK pressure group has challenged the Food Standards Agency (FSA)
over its concerns that food manufacturers may need to reduce folic
acid levels in certain foods if mandatory fortification of bread
and/or flour goes ahead.

Folic Acid Action (FAA) said the FSA's concerns about excessive intake of folic acid were unfounded and may prevent pregnant women and women trying to conceive from supplementing their diet with the nutrient proven to reduce neural tube birth defects. FAA said the FSA position "lacks clarity". "Concerns over 'excessive levels of folic acid' are unfounded,"​ said FAA chairman and chief executive officer of the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, Andrew Russell. He pointed to folic acid's potential to benefit health beyond its established neural tube links. These included dementia in the elderly and cardiovascular disease. "No ill-effects or risks of folic acid have been proven. No link of folic acid to cancer has been shown, other than a possible preventative effect for some cancers,"​ he said."We really need to look at the bigger picture here to understand that increasing folic acid in the population as a whole is likely to have myriad benefits." ​ The FSA recommended in May that all UK flour/bread should be fortified with folic acid, pending further review. It subsequently called on food manufacturers to consider reducing folic acid levels in some foods to ward against overexposure if flour and/or bread was fortified. It said folic acid levels should be reduced by 15 per cent in fortified breakfast cereals and fat spreads, and limited to set levels in supplements. The FSA expressed concern that up to 380,000 UK citizens could be overdosing on folic acid in such a climate, including 8000 over-65s. Critics of mandatory fortification state that it has the potential to mask vitamin B deficiencies, particularly in the elderly, leading to greater risk of bowel cancer and anaemia. FAA called on the FSA to consider the US model where folate flour fortification is boosted by individual foods being fortified by manufacturers. It estimates mandatory flour fortification alone could reduce neural tube defect births by about a third - from 1100 to 350-400. However FSA Board figures contradict this. When it met in May, it said folic acid fortification had the potential to reduce the number of NTD-affected pregnancies from 239 to 162. Numbers consuming too little folate could be reduced from 13.3 million to 5.6 million, it said, without increasing the number of people with intakes above the upper limit.

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